Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Africa - North America - Africa... A Good Story

I heard a great story on the weekend.

I got talking banjo at a gig with Lewis Melville, an old musical acquaintance of mine from Guelph, Ontario. He had recently sponsored a visit to Canada by a musician from Mali who plays one of the many banjo-like traditional instruments in use in Africa these days. (I forget which)

In any case it's one of the ones with a thumb string (or two) and is basically played in what we'd think of in a stroke style.

He took the guy around to some folk festivals, since other than the grassroots music of his community the only music he'd every had a chance to hear was "international pop" - so his idea of Canada was Celine Dion and Justin Beiber. Apparently he loved the hard driving traditional music of some of our bands from Quebec.


He mentioned to Lewis that as the world got noisier it was getting harder to be heard on his small skin-headed gut-strung instrument. Lewis thought about this and Before he went back to Mali, gave him a present of an inexpensive electric guitar with the low E and A removed and replaced with treble strings.  Suddenly this fellow had a "modern" instrument to which he could apply the virtuosic techniques he'd developed on the traditional one. Apparently the music was something else. He said that as far as he knew, no one had tried this before back home. There are lots of electric guitars, but not strung up like that. So he took it back on the plane with him.

I want to know what happens next...

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Comment by rick Ceballos on September 26, 2011 at 5:10pm
He was probably playing an ngoni which is the instrument of Bassekou Kouyate also from Mali. He plays in a group Ngoni Ba with five other ngonis of various sizes. They are all hooked up with pickups and they play a very kicked up afro-fusion style of music .... very exciting. Yes, the world is getting noisier and smaller


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